Why Do Ostriches Have Wings If They Can’t Fly? | Can Ostrich Fly?

Ostriches are the heaviest and the largest bird is known to us. Their unique appearance and high running capabilities make ostriches different from the other birds.

They are huge in size and the presence of wings on a bird which is mostly seen on land rather than air, leaves us to wonder if they would really fly.

Can ostrich fly?

Ostriches can’t fly as their wings are shaggy and not capable of lifting their heavy bodies in the air. Their wings are not made to carry the weight of their large and heavy bodies.

Ostriches and birds like cassowaries, kiwis, emus, and rheas belong to a category of birds called ratites. These birds lack keel present in their breast bones which help in holding the pectoral muscles required for flying. 

Besides, they have more reptile-like bone arrangements in the roofs of their mouths. This is why an ostrich cannot fly in spite of having wings.

Why Do Ostriches Have Wings If They Can’t Fly?

Ostriches have wings because their ancestors too had wings and were flying birds. Thus, the wings of ostriches are the result of biological inheritance. However, as time passed, these birds lost the ability to fly due to evolution. 

They gained weight which made them unable to fly and adapted themselves to the land. Therefore, ostriches forgot about flying and became flightless birds.

The wings form the upper limb in birds. It is not possible to remove such an important structural feature from genetics. 

The features that aren’t used for their original function but continue to exist are known as vestigial structures. The wings of ostriches are one of the examples of such structures.

Vestiges may perform different functions from the ones they used to perform in their ancestors. Ostriches’ wings do not perform extensive functions like flying but they do perform other less complex functions.

Related Read: Do Birds Get Tired Of Flying | How Long Can Birds Fly Without Stopping?

What do Ostriches use their wings for?

Ostriches use their wings for various other purposes than flying. The wings perform minor yet important functions while running, courtship displays, hot summers, and communicating. 

Courtship displays

Ostriches use their wings to attract their mates. The wings help them during mating season in displays of courtship. The tail feathers are mainly used for this purpose.

During the courtship ritual, the striking black and white male attracts the light brown colored female.

The male sinks slowly to the ground in a sort of bow and starts to wave and shake the feathers of his wings alternatively. He moves the tail up and down at the same time. 

After this dance, the male gets up and approaches the female, holding his wings out and stamping his feet to impress the female with his power and dominance. If the female approves of him, she sits down and then they mate.

Maintaining balance while running

The wings of ostriches help them in maintaining balance while running. These birds spread their wings out while they are running.

They can run so fast because they use their wings to balance themselves, especially at the time of changing directions.

Providing shade for young 

Their wide wingspans work as shade for their young ones. While protecting the chicks from the scorching heat, the female ostriches spread their wings to provide them shade. 

As an act of dominance

When ostriches show dominance, they lift their wings and hold their heads high. It is their way to express their dominance and power. In the situation of submission, they droop their head and wings down. 

Characteristics of ostrich feathers

Since ostriches don’t fly, their feathers are not sleek and tightly packed like those of other birds. Ostriches have loose and soft feathers which seem to stick out in clumps. This gives them a ‘shaggy’ appearance. 

These birds have different feathers as well. Unlike most birds, their feathers are not waterproof and can get soaked in the rain. 

Adult male ostriches are black and white in color whereas females and young ostriches have grayish-brown feathers.

Related Questions:

Did ostriches used to fly?

The ancestors of ostriches were flying birds. The DNA evidence has proven the fact that these birds used to fly to different continents, residing in different places. The ostriches have evolved around 60-65 million years ago when they used to fly.  

They later gained weight and became flightless. The presence of wings indicates their ancestral history of flying.

Can you ride on an ostrich?

You can ride ostriches as they can easily carry an approximate human weight. In fact. Ostriches races and rides are a few major fun-loving tourist attractions.

People interested in ostrich riding can visit the farms that facilitate the rides under their supervision and instructors.

How fast can ostriches run? 

An adult ostrich can run at the maximum speed of 70 km/h. These birds need as much mechanical work as humans need during running but still can run with so much more speed than a human. 

Their tendons are the major factor responsible for their high speed. The tendons of ostriches release elastic energy which can generate 83% more work in comparison to humans. 


Ostriches are flightless birds but possess wings due to inheritance. These birds use their wings to perform some other functions. They can’t fly but they can run at the speed of approximately 60 mph.

Ostriches are known for their quickness and strength. Their powerful legs help them to kill their predators. Thus, ensures their security.

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